This is another parallel posting from Literotica. This is a change of pace, suspense and eerie rather than sci-fi. This is early in the Millwater horror series even though the town only has a cameo.
“You about ready to blow this thing?” Tommy asked him.
Ed nodded. “Yeah, everyone clear?”
Tommy looked around again, “Still in the middle of the desert by ourselves, boss.”
“Fine, hit it.”
There were a couple of dull thumps that Ed felt through the soles of his boots. The men looked over the hood of the truck. The two large rocks they’d been tasked with destroying were split into quarters.
“Hoo-ah!” yelled Tommy. “Check that shit out!”
He started to run toward the rocks but stepped on a bootlace and fell flat on his face.
Ed shook his head and laughed, walking over to where the dust was still settling around the rocks. They were some kind of dark stone he’d never seen before. Crazy red-neck or not, Tommy was an artist with high explosives. The two boulders had split in four sections, almost like an orange. There was a sharp smell in the air, almost like ozone.
“GET DOWN!” Tommy yelled and Ed was on his face before he’d even thought about it. But it was quiet, no buzz of incoming bullets.
Tommy came running over. “Eddie! You okay?” Hands patted his back and sides.
Ed rolled over, “Tommy, I swear to Christ, if you did that because your own stupid ass fell on the ground…”
“You didn’t see it?” Tommy said. “The flashes?”
Ed sat up, “No, I didn’t see any flashes. What’re you talking about?”
“Serious as a heart attack, you walked over and there was two flashes of light right over you. I figured there was some unexploded ordnance. You didn’t see anything? Really?”
Ed looked at him. Tommy was such a shit liar that everyone loved playing poker with him. “You scratched your sunglasses or something,” Ed said. “There was nothing there.”
“Yeah, you woulda noticed it for sure. Hell, Eddie, one last squirt to the heart, right?” Tommy said, pulling him to his feet. “I wouldn’t fuck with you on your last day like that.”
“Yes you would.”
Tommy thought for a minute and laughed. “Yeah, I would. But I wasn’t back there, swear. Maybe it was the sun or something.”
They got in the truck and headed back to the security compound. Ed was flying out tonight, he couldn’t wait to get out of here. Twenty-four hours from now he’d be landing in Cincinnati, two hours later he’d be home.
“You think you’ll be back?” Tommy asked as they drove.
“No way. Three tours and two years contracting? That’s enough sandbox for me.”
“You’ll be back,” Tommy said, nodding as though it were a done deal. “You’ll get bored and you’ll be back.”
Ed shook his head. “No way. I’m going home, I’m gonna marry Dina, and we’re going to have a baby. I’ll find some nice boring job to do.”
Tommy laughed. “Calling bullshit.” He started on some long story about some hapless cousin of his who kept getting in trouble whenever he got home.
Ed smiled and pulled his hat down over his eyes. Tommy never cared if anyone was listening or not. “Talking to hear his head roar,” his uncle would’ve said.
“Iraq,” the customs agent said, glancing through his passport.
“Yessir,” Ed said. He really hoped this big bastard wasn’t going to be a prick. He’d heard about guys getting hassled, especially contractors.
“You meeting someone?” the guy asked.
Ed frowned. That was an odd question and he just nodded.
“Good deal, the taxi guys crank their fees up at night. Didn’t want you to get screwed over.” The agent stamped his passport and handed it back. “Welcome home, Mr. Fairweather.”
It always surprised Ed when people were kind. He nodded at the man and headed down the empty concourse, just a few people from the flight in front of him. Baggage claim was almost as empty and he immediately saw Dina waiting for him. He started to walk quickly toward her and she ran to him, jumping up to wrap her arms and legs around him, squeezing tightly. Ed hugged her just as tightly, smelling her shampoo and perfume. Now he was home.
His cellphone chirped three times and Ed snapped awake and grabbed it. He looked around confused and then remembered he was home.
“Ed, Andy Lewis.”
Andy had been Ed’s CO in the Army and then his team leader when they both went to private contractors.
“Hey Andy, what’s going on.” The guy wasn’t trying to get him to come back already?
“Ed, everything okay with you?”
Ed squinted at his watch. “Yeah, I got home a few hours ago. Something wrong?”
“Checking to make sure everything was okay. Look, I didn’t want to interrupt anything, I had to be sure. Give me a call later.”
Ed sat up. Andy sounded freaked out but Andy didn’t freak out.
“Dina’s at work. Talk to me now, Andy. I’m awake. What’s wrong?”
It was quiet long enough that Ed thought he’d hung up.
“Tommy lost his shit a few hours after you left, Ed. Starting talking all kinds of crazy shit. They found him talking to the air, wandering around the market.”
“He was fine when we went out,” Ed said. “What happened?”
“Our guys brought him back, mostly naked and raving about fires and green mountains. I’ve never seen him like that. We put him to bed, hoped he’d sleep it off. A little later, he put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
“Tommy? Holy shit,” Ed whispered. Tommy was the last guy he’d expect to eat a bullet.
“Yeah. I gotta write a statement here. Nothing happened to him while you guys were out? He wasn’t buying drugs or anything?”
“Tommy? Hell no, he was too Baptist to even drink beer. Something strange did happen after he blew those rocks. He yelled, said there were flashes of light around me. I didn’t see anything and he was kind of embarrassed about it a few minutes later.”
“Maybe he had a stroke or something?” Andy said.
“I dunno, he was fine later.”
“Be nice if there was enough of his head for an autopsy,” Andy said. “Look, I don’t want his insurance to get held up. I’m going to write it up that way. So if anyone calls and asks…”
“Gotcha boss,” Ed said. He wasn’t surprised, Andy was a good CO.
“Hey, why the hell did you guys det those boulders anyway? The locals are pissed as hell about that, were you just fucking around?”
Ed was surprised, “Tommy had paperwork, your name was on it along with some guy from the local security.”
There was another long silence. “I didn’t sign any taskings for that, Ed. Remember the local’s name?”
“Uhm, Freptar or something like that. It’s in my log book.”
“I’ll look into it. The mayor is meeting with us today, evidently those were an important monument. Maybe they’re just busting my balls over it”
“Andy, you know I don’t do independent shit.”
There was a sigh. “I know you don’t, Eddie. Starting to wonder what Tommy had going though. I gotta go deal with this, you’re not in any trouble. Enjoy the P&Q.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do, Andy.”
Dina stretched as she walked to the bathroom. Ed had promised her that they’d spend a couple of days in bed when he got home. She’d had to work today but he’d certainly spent a day by himself sleeping. She didn’t mind, he’d had more than enough energy when she got home last night.
Today she had a surprise for him. A few months ago he said one of the things he wanted to do was go for a drive, to see trees and water and not have to worry about anything blowing up or anyone shooting at him. After some research, she’d come up with a carefully marked route on a map with the twistiest roads she could.
“Edward, get up,” she said, opening the curtains. “Right now.”
“Yep, I’m awake. What’s wrong?”
“Enough laying around, I need you to take care of something for me.” Dina held out the map.
Ed looked at it. “What?”
“I need you to get that car out of the barn and take me up this road for lunch!”
He looked at the map and then up at her, grinning. “Well, if you’re sure.” He grabbed her and pulled her into the bed.
“No!” Dina shrieked, wiggling to get away. “I’m starving near to death and I let you take advantage of me. Now you won’t even feed me! Brute!”
“Who was taking advantage?” he said, looking at the hickey on his chest.
“Pish-posh, that’s nothing. Get up!” Dina dodged another arm and backed up to the door. “Edward, I’m gonna fill a bucket with water.”
“I’m up,” he said. “That car is gonna be a mess though.”
“Maybe it’s not as bad as you remember.”
Ed pulled the barn door open and stopped.
“Who’s car is this?” he said.
“I might’ve had Kyle fix it up a little,” Dina said.
“A little! Baby, this most have cost a fortune!”
“Well, you won’t let me pay for anything, so I used my money for this.”
Ed had bought a Impreza WRX when he’d left the Army. It was a few years old and pretty beat up. He planned to fix it up but before that happened he’d taken a contract with a private security company. This didn’t look much like the car he’d left in the barn. The dents were gone and it had been repainted, there were new wheels as well.
“He did some work on the engine too,” Dina said. “But you’re not allowed to look right now, you’re taking me to lunch.”
“You are the best ever!” Ed said, wrapping her in a tight hug.
“I’m happy you like it,” Dina said. She shivered as his hands found her bottom and he kissed her neck.
“Let me take you inside and thank you,” Ed murmured into her ear.
“No! You stop that! You’re taking me to lunch!”
Ed laughed and pulled the car out of the barn. It sounded great.
“You’re the navigator,” Ed told her as she got in.
“Okay, head over Route 26. We’re going to lunch in Millwater.”
“Sounds like a nice place.”
She nodded. “It’s gorgeous. And there’s some really nice antique shops.”
Ed looked over at her but she ignored him, smiling out the windshield. He hated antiquing. He kept staring at her but Dina refused to look at him. Finally, Ed laughed and floored the car. Dina shrieked as the tires threw gravel everywhere and they went flying down the driveway. The day couldn’t have been more perfect, warm and sunny with occasional puffy clouds blocking the sun. They got to Marietta and followed the road east, out of town. Dina rolled down her window as they left the town behind, tucking her long blonde hair under a baseball cap. Ed smiled over at her, there wasn’t anyone he’d rather be with.
The road into the river valley began to twist back and forth, bouncing up and down over ridges. Ed sped up.
“Don’t you make me carsick,” Dina teased him. “I will not hesitate to throw up on the floor.”
He gunned the engine in response and she laughed, putting her head against the seat, dangling her hand out the window, playing with the air moving past. Life was good.
They pulled into Riverwood just after noon and found a place to eat. After lunch, it was a couple of antique stores. Ed was so happy to be with Dina that he hardly minded following her around the dusty rooms.
“Well, that’s it,” she said when they came out of the second store. “Ready to hit the road?”
“Really? Just two? Baby, are you feeling okay?”
“There’s only three in town and the other one is closed today,” she said, taking his arm. “But there are other towns nearby…”
“No, no, I don’t want to mess with your plans.”
She laughed. “But there’s a teeny little graveyard I’d like to see if you don’t mind stopping.”
“Nope, let’s get some gas and something to drink and we’ll be on our way.”
“We’re getting close, there’s a little picnic and camping area.”
“For a cemetery?” Ed asked and she laughed.
“It’s in the national forest, no one uses the cemetery anymore.”
“Well obviously the Forest Service isn’t concerned about zombies.”
“Probably not, the bastards. It’s the next road on the right.”
He followed the narrow road as it turned back and forth out of the valley. They passed a large gas station and turned down the dirt road.
“Aw baby, did you bring me back here so I could play rally driver?” Ed asked, fishtailing the car around a bend.
“Remember what I said about throwing up on the floor? And be careful on this bridge, it looks scary.”
“There’s the entrance.”
He pulled in and turned off the car. Without the engine everything seemed very quiet.
“Let’s go look at the pond first,” Dina said. “There’s places to sit over there, under the pine trees.”
Ed looked around as they walked to the water. It was really quiet, the trees on the forested slopes around were completely still. Even the scratchy roar of the grasshoppers was muted. There was a little splash of water by the trees, where the pond drained over an old concrete dam and into the creek below. Other than that, it was just the scuffing of his feet in the pine needles.
Dina sat on a picnic table and opened her bottle of juice. He sat down and took a drink from his water. The smell of pinesap was really strong. There was a little bit of a noise as a breeze hissed through the trees. It didn’t help, just made the suffocating silence worse. He rubbed his nose, he usually liked pine trees, liked the smell of sap and the soft carpet of needles. Not today, it was gloomy and all he could think about was the smell of turpentine.
Dina was talking about something she’d seen in the antique store, getting it for the house and he tried to pay attention but the words were just sliding past him for some reason. He frowned and rubbed his nose again.
“Are you okay?”
“You’re hunching your shoulders like you’re expecting someone to hit you.”
As he was about to tell her he was fine, the wind blew harder, making the trees hiss again. He let the sound interrupt him, glaring up at the trees.
Dina frowned. “You’re not okay. What’s going on?”
“Really, I’m fine. Just annoyed with this place for some reason.”
“Then we’ll go somewhere else.”
“Sounds good,” Ed said, getting up. “Let’s go see your graveyard.”
“It’s up that hill over there,” Dina said, pointing to the far side of the parking lot.
He took a deep breath as they walked past the car and Dina smiled at him. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah. Don’t know what was wrong with me back there. So tell me why there’s a graveyard in a park.”
“Way back, there was a little pioneer settlement here. All that’s left is the millpond back there, and up the hill is the cemetery and an old well.”
Ed really wanted to get the hell out of there, but Dina was excited to go up and see the cemetery. Making her happy made him happy, so they started climbing the path. Dina was into old graveyards, but not in a creepy way. She’d grown up in a state home knowing nothing about her family. Now she stopped at little graveyards all over looking for people with her last name. When she found one, she carefully took notes and then would make Ed laugh with outlandish stories about Great Uncle Hezekiah or whoever.
When they reached the top he took another deep breath. It was better up here, but there was some kind of itch he couldn’t reach. He’d snap out of it, today was going to be perfect. He’d gotten her an engagement ring in Germany and he touched the velvet box in his pocket. Yeah, today was going to be perfect.
“There’s the well,” she said, letting go of his hand to point. They walked over to the fieldstone wall and looked down. There was a heavy steel grate keeping people from falling in, other than that, the bright light made it too dark to see the bottom. He thought he could hear the water at the bottom though. It made him have to pee.
“Hey, I’m going to duck behind this tree for a second,” he said.
She smiled and shook her head, “We just walked by a bathroom. Hurry up.”
He left his bottle of water on the edge of the well and kissed her.
“Be right back.”
There was a large shaded area under a tangle of trees and he stepped behind one and went against the base. Ed zipped up and walked back out to the well but Dina wasn’t there. Maybe she decided he was being gross and went on without him. He grabbed the water, but why was this full now? And the cap was still sealed. He knew he’d been drinking out of it. Did someone else leave it here?
He walked around the well, looking for his water. It was gone, this one had to be someone else’s. He left it there. The last thing he needed was some soccer mom screaming he stole it.
There was a little path into the trees and followed that, finding an iron fence and a dozen headstones, but no Dina. Had she gone back to the car for some reason? The back of his neck was starting to tingle and itch, something was wrong here. Ed started to jog back toward the well but made himself stop and take a few deep breaths. He wasn’t in the sandbox anymore, he was home and there was nothing to worry about here. Plus, Dina would make him go back to that PTSD group if he ran back there flipping his shit.
Once his breathing had calmed down, Ed walked the rest of the way to the well. She still wasn’t there, so she must have gone back down to the car. The water was still sitting there. He kicked a rock and it clattered against the stone well coping. The sound was loud, Ed realized that everything around him had gone absolutely quiet. Even the grasshoppers were silent, no birds, no wind in the trees. His footsteps were the only noise. The light was getting dimmer as well.
Sandstorm! he thought.
No, not here, thunderstorms here. He squinted up but the sky was a bright glaring white. No dark clouds that he could see. But there was the parking lot ahead. That’s where she was, she’d laugh at him for being nervous when he told her about this. His feet scuffed on the path and Ed was glad of that noise at least. It was almost like he was going deaf.
The tingling on the back of his neck was still there though. It had been joined by a rock in the pit of his stomach. Something had to be wrong here. He was walking past the car when he remembered he left the water up there. She’d give him hell for littering in the park it but he really didn’t want to go back up there. He didn’t have the energy and it was too hot and too still.
The Subaru was the only car in the lot but she wasn’t inside. How could she be when it was this hot? Ed glanced at the sky again. Still a bright glaring white. He noticed a green shimmer near the horizon, but it was the wrong color for a tornado. What was going on with the weather?
The hair on his arms stood up as the quiet began to spread around him. It spread from behind him, silencing everything around him. Like it was flowing down the hill behind him. Ed slowed his breathing down again. Panicking wouldn’t help Dina. Maybe she’d gone to the bathroom. He walked around the brick structure but the door was hanging open and it was empty.
The feeling of wrongness got worse. He wasn’t nervous anymore, he was fucking scared. It didn’t matter if he left Iraq or not, shit was going down right here.
“Dina!” he yelled, turning in a circle. He yelled over and over but there was no reply. Had someone kidnapped her? Had he missed any signs of a struggle?
Ed wanted to run back up the hill and look for traces, but that was ridiculous. He’d been fifty feet away, he would have heard something. And Dina was hardly helpless, she’d knocked a drunk Marine on his ass last year in Florida. She hadn’t even broken a sweat, no way could someone silently grab her.
But whose bottle of water was sitting on the well?
That picnic table in the shadow of the pines was the only other place she could be. Unless she’d walked out to the road. He could see the pines but not into the darkness underneath them. For some reason, he really didn’t want to walk over there.
A flash in his eyes made Ed duck. It was still silent and if there wasn’t any noise it wasn’t an explosion. He was fine, it must have been a reflection. He took a breath and started walking across the grass toward the trees. If she was there, he’d find her. If she was in trouble, he’d help her. She’d do the same for him.
“I’m yours and you’re mine,” he muttered, concentrating on putting one foot in front of another. They said it to each other all the time. The last thing in the world he’d do was let her down because something spooked him. The glare from the sky got worse, he could feel the sun beating onto his scalp. The fear got worse and worse but he forced himself to keep walking. Those trees looked like they were miles away. It was going to take him forever to get out there.
He glanced back at the parking lot, hoping to see her standing by the car. She’d have her hands on her hips, wondering what he was doing wandering out here. But the parking lot was still empty and now the car looked as far away as the trees. There was no way he could make it to either one in this heat and silence. He shook his head, it didn’t matter, she was his and something had gone very wrong. He was going to find her.
He kept walking toward the trees, not looking back. There were small puffs of dust from the grass, baked brown and dead by the merciless sun. There was a scrap of something on the ground, a scrap of nylon strap someone had abandoned a long time ago looked like. Maybe a dog collar. He’d had a dog once. He could still hear it; the screech of tires followed by its anguished screaming. It was the first thing that he’d ever had to kill, kneeling there in the street with the knife while the blood spread, staining the knees of his school pants.
The feeling in his stomach had grown spikes now. He swallowed, trying to hold off panic. How could a few trees scare him this much? And Jax was long gone, no need to worry him now.
It had been quick for Jax at least. Not like mom. She’d lasted a long time, kept smiling, even as his stepfather slowly beat her to death, night by night. Ed groaned quietly.
He thought he was done with remembering this shit! Why was he doing this to himself?
He looked up and could’ve cried with relief when he saw the trees right in front of him. He made it. And there was someone sitting on the picnic table! He stumbled into the shade of the pines, shuddering as he stepped out of that merciless heat and glare. The cool dim air washed over him, the feeling was almost like falling into cold water. He walked on, going to Dina. They were going to laugh about this later.
But that wasn’t her.
Dina was wearing khaki shorts and a green t shirt. There was a faded Hornet logo on the front. This woman was wearing long black pants and some sort of long, dark red, vest thing. And Dina had blonde in a braid down to the middle of her back. This woman’s short black hair stood up in spikes.
The fear and despair washed over Ed again. Where had she come from? The parking lot was still empty, he could see it from here, across the endless wastes of dead grass.
“Excuse me, have you seen a woman, green shirt and blonde hair?” he managed to ask.
The woman turned around. She moved gracefully in one smooth motion. Almost like a machine. She studied him, expression then abruptly smiled. She looked like a supermodel, high cheekbones, smooth skin and very red lips. Her eyes were a strange gray color, he’d never seen anyone with eyes that color. And the expression on her face was fixed, like it had been painted there. Ed had never seen anyone so beautiful and was deeply frightened. She wasn’t beautiful like Dina, this woman had a statue’s beauty or the graceful curve of an iridescent beetle shell. Dina was alive and laughing and perfect.
“Her?” The woman sounded surprised Ed could even think about Dina.
He felt a little ashamed for some reason, but he was stubborn, “Yes, her.”
“She was up there waiting for you, at the well. I suppose she might have gone off with him.”
Ed was almost nauseated with terror, his knees were made of water and every neuron he had wanted to run. Right now. Go away to anywhere that wasn’t here. But Dina was his, he was hers. That’s the way it was. The woman was looking past him, like there was someone behind him. Ed looked around but no one was there.
“You remember, Edward? The well?” She was talking to him like he was simple.
“No, I was just there. She was gone.”
“Not that well.”
She laughed and Ed could hear the cheerleaders laughing about his “poor kid” clothes his first day of high school. Ed looked at his feet, ashamed of everything he was. But he wasn’t leaving until he had an answer. He was hers, she was his and he was going to find her again.
She stopped, mid laugh and sighed instead. “Fine, be stubborn then, I’ll show you.”
She got up gracefully, beautifully and Ed almost screamed but bit his lips before she noticed. No one moved that way, no one real. It was too smooth, too perfect. There was something to it that woke up the ancient parts of his brain, making then scream of predators, screaming at him to run. Ed had a hard time making his legs move, but finally followed her. There wasn’t any choice, he had to find…what as her name again? Dina! How the hell could he forget that? It had to be this heat.
The sun blasted meadow was shimmering in the heat and Ed stopped to look back at the shade and a jolt of formless terror hit him like someone had thrown it from a bucket. He hurried after the woman. The fear faded when he was close to her again. Ed tried to stop walking but the terror of his memories shoved him, carrying him in her wake. They walked across the parking lot. His car was right there, a beautiful blue promise of escape if only he could make it, but he couldn’t stop walking. His hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t have even gotten his keys out anyway.
The terror began to crowd in on him as they climbed the path. Ed was only a step behind her. He didn’t think of anything but following her, he didn’t want to be left here by himself.
“What’s your name?” he asked and she stopped and rotated, looking at him.
“What would you do with my name?” She sounded curious.
“You knew mine, I don’t know what to call you,” he muttered, unable to meet her beautiful eyes.
“Ah. You may call me Akatash min Marid then. No, your clumsy tongue can’t, can it? Can you manage Aka?”
He nodded and she swiveled around and started walking up the path again and Ed followed her. His eyes were drawn to the movement of her buttocks. It was inhumanly graceful. Ed couldn’t believe that he could watch her like this, that he could get turned on. But he couldn’t look away from the perfect motion of the perfect ass in front of him. She walked to the well. Aka pirouetted and sat on the edge of the well in one swift movement, like she was dancing. Ed looked for the bottle of water. It was gone and he was confused. Had he had been at the wrong place? Then he saw the trees he had gone behind. No, this was the same place he’d been before.
“As I said, maybe she got tired of waiting for you. Got bored and went off into the trees with him. Go and look.”
“Him! You wouldn’t know his name.”
There was a spark of anger inside of him. Of course he didn’t know the fucking name, would he have to ask if he did?
Aka looked amused, like he’d said it out loud. “You want to know his name as well? You can call him Varun.”
She waited, like he was supposed to recognize the name. She rolled her eyes.
“He gets so impatient. Go and look in the trees.” she said, waving him toward the tangled shade.
Ed was drawn to the tangle of trees, aware of every footstep, not wanting to look, suddenly sure he’d see Dinah there, her body ripped and lifeless. But he couldn’t stop himself, he wanted to close his eyes…and then he was gasping in relief, there was nothing there but the carpet of pine needles. He looked back at the woman and his mouth fell open. She had unbuttoned her vest and let it fall on the ground. She was smiling again and the expression looked real this time. He wasn’t sure if the expression on her face meant hunger or lust. It was probably both. She licked her lips and opened her pants. They fell around her ankles and she stepped out of them as she walked toward him. She moved slowly, looking even more like a statue, beautiful and utterly inhuman. Despite the terror, Ed’s cock was rigid.
“You don’t recognize me, salibi?”
Ed shook his head mutely. He’d never seen this woman before, he had no clue what she was talking about. But he wanted to run from her until his lungs burst and he wanted to crawl on his belly in the dirt to please her. He wanted to climb into the trees to hide or to scream his sanity away. But he didn’t move, he was frozen in place and out of choices. He was going to do whatever she wanted. He’d crawl, lick her feet, rip his own eyes out to please her. Whatever she wanted, because it was obedience not desire. Then a memory of laughter and blonde hair floated through his mind.
“Where is she?” Ed whispered. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to find her or just make sure she wasn’t watching what he was about to do for this woman.
“I told you, he gets impatient! She’s right over there, look.”
Ed turned, she kept talking but he ignored her. Dina! How had he missed seeing her? She was right there, so close he could hear her.
He could hear them both.
Dina wasn’t alone, they were both so close he could hear them both. Ed wanted to weep for her, she’d been taken over, just like Akatash was about to take him over. He wasn’t angry or jealous, neither of them had a choice. Like a mare being inseminated had no choice. Was that what they were doing to Dina and him? Why?
Dina was breathing hard, crouched over the figure in the shadows.
Ed kept watching, unable to believe his eyes. Dina was completely naked and she was pushing herself onto him. She was panting, like she’d been running. Every time she lowered herself, he pushed his hips up, driving his absurdly large penis up into her. Ed stood frozen, staring. The woman was standing beside him, close enough that he felt the heat coming from her perfect flesh.
“Who are you?” he whispered, pleading, keeping his eyes on Dina.
“I told you. What am I? Up and beside, from the Kaf” she said, sliding her hands down his back. He shivered at the warmth of her hands. “But don’t trouble your little brain. After all, how could Mr. Square know up?”
“What do you want with her? With us?”
“Mmm, you’re all so snuggly and scared!” she laughed, her hands tracing the edge of his shorts. “We’re playing qarin. Not pets, not quite right, but close. Because you’re so adorably tri-dimensional.”
“Is this real?”
The woman’s hands slid over his stomach, pulling his shirt over his head. The heat from her skin felt like sunlight on his back. Dina’s gasps were starting to sound like moans. She was muttering something but Ed couldn’t hear what. He couldn’t look away from Dina. Did she know he was watching?
Akatash pushed him forward as she stepped away. “Again! Why would you even think about…ohh! You have a relationship with her, don’t you. Little pets and their mates. This must be very upsetting for you. But see? Isn’t he magnificent?”
“Shoot it inside me,” Dina suddenly groaned. “I want to feel it.”
Ed stared at her, a pit forming in his stomach. Dina was grinding her hips on the shadowy figure. Ed knew then that she wasn’t being forced at all, she wanted it. She was begging for more. Was that the way she begged for it from men while he was gone? She was nearly a stranger, how well could he really know her? He’d been gone for a long time…
“Yes,” Akatash whispered in his ear, behind him again. “She only thinks of him. Poor Edward, your little mate has forgotten all about you.
“Fuck me!” Dina screamed.
“Forget about her,” Akatash said. “Come lie with me, I’ve forgotten, it’s been so long.”
As Ed watched, the stranger grabbed Dina’s ass, pulling her hard against him as his hips pounded in her. Dina moaned, her back arching as she frantically humped against him. The way Dina always came. No, she wasn’t being forced. She was enjoying this. Ed turned to look at the woman and she shrugged, giving him a mean little smile.
“How could you compete with him? Now he’s done and you waited too long.” Her clothes were back on and she was backing away, toward the well.
“Too late too late’ she said, almost singing it.
Behind him, Ed could hear Dina orgasming again.
The woman reached out into the air, like she was pulling a curtain back. Then she somehow stepped behind it. She was gone, along with the fear. Ed fell to his knees, his entire body cramping as he gasped and sobbed.
“Baby!” Dina yelled, running toward him from the well. He could see his half full water bottle sitting there, just where he’d left it. Nothing here but the mellow June sun. Nothing behind him. He tried to control his breathing. Nothing there, he was safe. No one else here but them. Then Dina’s arms were around him, rocking him as he shuddered.
“Where did you go?” she asked him. “You just disappeared.”
“Who were they?” he gasped.
“Who? No one is here,” she said.
“That woman, and that man. Oh God, I thought I’d lost you!”
“Shh, I’m right here. You disappeared, I looked all over but you were gone. Where did you go?”
“I was here,” he said. “I was right here.”
Dina finally got him to the car, helping him walk on shaky legs down the path. Everything looked normal, he didn’t feel anything at all, the grass was as green as it had been earlier. Birds and grasshoppers made the usual racket. It was a nice summer day. Even the irritation was gone.
“You’re not okay to drive.”
“I’ll be fine, let me catch my breath.”
Ed sat down in the grass, Dina fussing over him. “You really didn’t see anyone?” he said.
“Up there? No, there wasn’t anyone there. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?”
“What did you see?”
Ed took a deep breath, “I came out from behind the tree and you were gone. I went looking for you in the graveyard, but you weren’t there either. I came down here and there was a woman over there. I thought it was you but she said you were waiting at the well.”
“And I was. Baby, we’re going to the hospital,” Dina said. “Something’s not right, you might have had a stroke or something.”
The spiked stone was back in Ed’s stomach. Hadn’t he told Andy the same thing about Tommy? Ed shook his head.
“No, it was real. It happened.”
“So you came to the well and that’s when I found you?”
“She led me up there, said you were in the trees and I saw you with…”
“What?” She looked worried.
“Nothing, it wasn’t you, I turned around and you were by the well.”
*Did she just relax?* Ed asked himself
But he didn’t trust his eyes at the moment.
“You went behind a tree,” she said. “You were gone for a while and I asked if you were okay. You didn’t answer, so I went and looked and you weren’t there,” she said.
“How long was I gone?”
She shrugged. “Twenty minutes maybe? Did you wander to a different parking lot?”
“And you didn’t see anyone, that whole time?”
“Ed, sweetie, I didn’t see a soul,” she said. “I walked around a little then I came back to the well. I was worried about you.”
He took a long breath. “I must have had sunstroke or something.”
She felt his head. “You’re pretty warm, maybe. Do you want your water?” She held out the half empty bottle and he recoiled slightly. “What’s wrong? You left this on the well.”
“Thanks,” he said, taking it. “I’m feeling better actually.”
“So we can head over to the VA.”
He shook his head. “Not spending any more time there.”
“Ed, I’m scared. What if this was like before?”
“It’s not PTSD, Dina. I’d know. Maybe it was heatstroke.”
“Hold out your hand.”
Ed held his hands up, they were both trembling like the leaves overhead and she raised her eyebrows.
“No,, Dina. I’m fine.”
“You’re not okay to drive.”
Ed nodded. “Would you drive home?”
She laughed. “Your baby? Now I know there’s something wrong with you.” Dina took the bottle and he gave her the keys. They got in the car and he put the seat back a little.
“If I don’t feel better tonight, I’ll go to the VA.”
“Okay, you’ve got a deal. You just rest right now.”
He managed to stay awake until she got the car to the main road, but his eyelids got heavier and heavier as they drove.
He nodded. “That okay?”
“That’s fine, we’ll be home soon.”
“Don’t take me to the VA.”
“Trust me,” Dina said.
Can I? He didn’t know who she really was anymore. Had that really been Dina?
As soon as he fell asleep, Ed was dreaming. The noises of the car and road were part of it, the woman was there on the picnic table, turning around and he tried to force himself awake.
“Shh,” Dina said, rubbing his chest. He relaxed, feeling the movements as Dina sped up. She was taking the freeway home, the windows rolled up and then she turned on some music.
“Just sleep,” she said gently.
Ed faded away again.
This time he wasn’t sure if he was awake or dreaming and tried to decide. The woman laughed at him again but then there was Dina’s music again. He was drifting in and out of sleep. He heard something unzipping and a soft sigh. There was a very quiet moan. He opened his eyes slightly, afraid of what he might see. It was Dina was beside him, not the woman. She made a small noise, almost like she was in pain. She was biting her lip. He felt a wave of love and tenderness, she was so worried she was crying? He was about to reach out to put his hand on her shoulder but…
“Oh, fuck yes,” she whispered.
Ed looked down and saw that her shorts were open. Her hand was in her panties. The wet sound got faster. Like it had with him. He wanted to watch, to hear what she said but the darkness was coming up to claim him again.
“Hey sleepyhead, we’re here.”
Ed sat up and Dina kissed his cheek. “Feeling better?”
“Little bit,” he mumbled. “Feel like I ran a marathon.”
“C’mon, let’s get you in the house.”
He followed her inside, watching her ass the same way he’d watched Aka’s. He had a sudden wave of anger. If he’d known Dina was going to get into it, he would’ve fucked the hell out of the black haired woman. Then Dina could watch him have a good time. She unlocked the door and held it open for him, smiling at him and touching his face as he came in. The anger dissolved. She wouldn’t do that to him, this was Dina. He was hers, she was his.
“Couch or bed?” she asked.
“Bed.” He followed her up the stairs to the bedroom and sat down and kicked his shoes off.
“Maybe it was heat exhaustion,” she said. “That’s why you’re so tired. I’m going to get you some water, be right back.”
Ed pulled his shirt off and flopped back onto the bed. He held up his hand and watched it tremble. Some sort of hallucination from heat stroke. Had it been that hot? Iraq was much hotter than Ohio.
“Here,” Dina said, putting the water on the table beside the bed. She sat on the edge next to him, putting her hand on his cheek. “You’re cooling down I think. Your sleep schedule is all screwy and we were up late last night. I know you were pushing yourself hard over there. So just relax and rest. I’m going to do some stuff downstairs and then I’ll come up and we can watch some TV, okay?”
“I’d like that,” he said. “Sorry about your cemetery visit.”
“Don’t worry about it, make sure you drink all that water.”
“In the car earlier, were you…”
“Was I what?”
He shook his head, “Nothing.”
“Tell me Eddie. I’m not kidding.”
“Were you, uhm, touching yourself.”
“Edward! I was driving and you were asleep the whole time.” She sounded pissed.
“Sorry, must have dreamt it.”
“You really think I’d do that in public?”
“Hey, heat exhaustion, remember?”
“More like a filthy mind,” she said, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “Get some rest.”
As he fell asleep there was a little voice telling him she’d never said she hadn’t had her fingers in her panties. And if she lied about that who knew what else there was. The voice was irritatingly gleeful as he fell into darkness again.
“Hey, I brought you some more water. I want you to wake up and drink it.”
Ed opened his eyes, there was a dull blue light outside. “What time is it?”
“Just after ten. Sit up and drink this, you.”
He sat up against the pillows and took a long drink of the cool water. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome but I’m mad at you. You scared the everloving shit out of me today. You’re going to the hospital next time something like that happens. I won’t lose you.”
“You better call me ma’am, if you know what’s good for you,” Dina said. She took off her shorts and sat on the edge of the bed. “Move over, I want to lay by you.”
She turned on the TV, playing the movie they always watched in bed, just nature scenes and music. Ed sighed and leaned back against the pillows. He still felt like he’d busted ass all day but this was nice.
Dina took his hand and laced her fingers through his. “I’m mad at you because I’m scared. You’re mine and I love you,” she finally said.
“I know, and you’re mine. It was probably just jetlag and heat, I’m fine.”
“Baby, I want you to tell me something,” Dina said after a few minutes.
“Yep.” Ed had been drifting off when she’d spoken. “What’s that?”
“You were falling asleep? Never mind, tell me tomorrow.”
He pushed himself up, “No, ask me now.”
“I want to know what happened, what you saw. I’ve never seen you scared, not once. What was the man doing? You didn’t say, just that I was there. Then you ask me if I was getting off in the car. What happened out there? I want you to tell me all of it, about the woman and the man. What happened that was so bad?”
“It was just a hallucination, it didn’t mean anything.”
“Will you tell me tomorrow?”
“Deal,” Ed said.
Ed’s eyes opened in the darkness, something was under the sheets sliding over his cock. His stomach was tight with fear, he couldn’t hardly breathe as he carefully reached down. He let his breath out in relief when he felt Dina’s long hair in his hands. He’d been afraid it would be short and spiky. Dina moaned, her mouth moving over his cock.
“Put your hands on my head,” she whispered. “I want to feel your fingers in my hair.”
“Dina, baby, I don’t feel too good,” Ed mumbled.
“Shh, don’t worry, you just lie back and I’ll do all the work.”
His cock went back in the wet heat of her mouth.
Ed glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was after two. Dina was crawling up his body, giving his nipples little bites as she went by. She moaned happily as she took his cock and put it inside of her, sitting up in the dim light.
“You feel good,” she said, bending down to kiss him. “Just lie back, I’m going to make you feel really nice.”
Ed was surprised, Dina usually didn’t like being on top. She got shy when he looked at her.
“How does it feel?” she whispered. “Can you feel how wet I am for you?”
Dina didn’t dirty talk either, but it was too exciting to think about.
“You feel amazing.”
She looked at the clock. “It’s tomorrow. Tell me what you saw.”
Ed was half awake and she felt so good, otherwise he never would have told her, deal or not.
“That guy today, you were with him.”
“With him?” she said. “Like how?”
“See? You have such a filthy mind.” She rolled her hips and Ed grabbed her ass pulling her onto him. She moaned quietly. “Tell me what happened.”
“The woman brought me up there, showed me you guys having sex.”
“So what were we doing? What was so scary?”
“You were on top of him, riding him. She took off her clothes like she wanted to have sex too.”
“That was scary?”
“It was the feeling around them. They were just wrong somehow. I was terrified of them both.”
“What do you think about my interrogation technique?” Dina asked, leaning down to kiss him.
“You can interrogate me anytime you like.”
“Good.” Dina lifted herself almost all the way off of him and moaned as she slid back down. “What was he doing while I rode him?”
Ed looked at her. “Why are you so interested?”
“I want to know what you dream about me,” Dina said, sticking her tongue out. “Was he doing anything to me?”
Ed sighed. “Fucking you, grabbing your ass.”
“Mmm, like you’re doing right now. Did I like it?”
“I thought he was forcing you, controlling you. You were just breathing hard at first. But then you started moaning and talking dirty to him.”
“What did I say?”
“Fuck you hard, cum in you. That kind of stuff.”
“I said that?” Dina looked amused. “Then what? Don’t evade the question either.”
“Fine. He came in you and that started you cumming. The woman said I had waited too long and she disappeared.”
“Oh fuck! I’m going to cum right now,” Dina suddenly moaned, sitting up and leaning backwards on her hands. “I’m cumming baby, keep fucking me! Go faster, please fuck me hard and fast…” her pleas turned into a long loud moan and Dina’s back arched as she sat all the way down on him, thrusting her hips against him and moaning. Ed wanted to enjoy it but couldn’t forget her on top of him back there in the forest.
Dina’s body relaxed and she shivered. She laid on his chest and kissed him, “You thought it really happened, huh? That’s why you thought I was masturbating in the car?”
Ed just shook his head and Dina gave him an evil smile and squeezed with her sex.
Ed gasped. “Oh God I love interrogation. But I don’t know what I think.”
“I want you on top of me,” Dina said, rolling him over on top of her. She spread her legs wide as she reached down and put him back in.
“Do you want me to talk dirty for you?” she whispered. “I’ll do it, I want your cum in me, Ed. I want you to take that beautiful hard cock and shove it into my wet little pussy. I want you to fuck me nice and deep and pump me full of cum.”
Ed pushed deeper into her and she groaned, wrapping her legs around him and pulling him tighter.
“Fuck me just like that baby, I want you to cum nice and deep. You know what I thought about while you were gone? When you cum in my mouth. I love feeling you shoot right on my tongue. I’m so dirty, letting you do that but it makes me so horny when I swallow. Tomorrow, I’m going to make you shoot in my mouth.”
Ed nodded, thrusting faster.
“Wait,” Dina said, putting her hands on his chest. “I want you to tell me something else.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Did you like it?”
Ed frowned. “What the hell kind of question is that?”
Dina smiled. “Did you? I’ll know if you’re lying.”
Ed looked away and she took his chin, making him look back at her. She squeezed his cock again.
“It’s okay, Eddie. Just tell me, do you like the thought of someone else’s cock inside me? It’s normal, you can tell me. Did you like it when I screamed for his cum?”
Ed stared at her and she smiled up at him. “Relax, lots of guys think about that. I’m just curious. Did you like watching me take that cock? Did you like watching me be a little slut?” She squeezed again.
“Yes!” Ed finally gasped.
She giggled and it turned into a moan. “Oh baby, fuck me deep like that. Cum inside me, I want you to shove it all the way up in me and let go, I want you to put a baby in there. Would you like that?”
“Yes,” groaned Ed.
“Do it baby, fill me up,” Dina whispered, pushing her hips against his thrusts.
Ed began to thrust hard up into her and she cried out when he began to cum. She wrapped her legs tight against him, lifting her hips into his thrusting cock until he was spent. Ed started to get up but she pulled him on top of her, milking his cock through one more orgasm.
When her breathing slowed back down, Dina stretched underneath him, hugging him tightly to her. “That was really good,” she said. “I think you mighta just knocked me up.”
“Good. Am I too heavy?”
“No, you’re perfect. I want to keep you inside me.”
Dina eventually curled up beside him, her breathing deepening and slowing as she fell asleep. Ed finally reached over and turned on the small lamp beside the bed. Dina muttered and turned over. What was going on, had he hallucinated the entire thing? He was wide awake now, his mind racing. Ed got out of bed and pulled a pair of shorts on. Dina muttered something and Ed smiled. She was always talking in her sleep, usually it was something pretty funny.
“What was that?” he said, squatting down next to the bed.
“Impatient,” she said, sounding annoyed. “He’s impatient.”
It felt like someone had dumped ice water down his back. He always thought it was just an expression.
Ed sat on the floor beside the bed for a while, listening to Dina breath, waiting for her to say something. Eventually he gave up and went downstairs. There was no way he was sleeping tonight with his heart pounding like this. He got a glass of water and drank it standing at the sink and staring out the kitchen window. A breeze came through the window and dried the sweat on his chest. The leaves outside were dancing on the night wind. It was one of the things he missed when he was away, the breezes here on summer nights. Now he was here and but couldn’t make himself enjoy it.
He didn’t know if he wanted to know or not. After a few minutes he gave up and took his cellphone out to the back steps. Ed sighed, looking up at the stars. Just once he’d like to have a simple problem. He pushed Andy’s speed dial.
Andy picked up immediately. “Wolfton Security, go ahead.”
“Andy, this is Ed.”
“How’s it going Eddie?”
“Doing good, boss. How’s everything there?”
Andy laughed. “You ready to come back?”
He snorted. “Not even a little. Did you find anything else out about Tommy?”
“Hey Ed, I’m gonna have to call you back another time, okay?”
“Sure, boss,” Ed said, but the line was already dead.
He sat on the stairs listening to the crickets and frogs and watching the stars while he waited to get sleepy. Beside him, the phone buzzed. Someone had texted him.
PB, chk vaca-mail
The number wasn’t familiar but it had the Dubai country code. Willy Johnson had started calling him Mr. Ed. Then Willy told Tommy they made the horse talk with peanut butter and that was that, he was PB. Goofy ass name, but that was Tommy. He logged into the gmail account Andy had made them all set up the first time they’d had time off. It was a way to contact each other if they got robbed or ended up in jail. Wolfton didn’t officially know anything about it but they could quietly fix most problems. Ed opened gmail and logged in. There was a long list of spam and at the top, a message from HonkytonkCav8088:
No names PB. I don’t know what that thing was or why it was so important but the natives are losing their shit over this. No one can figure out who Freptar is. One of the old guys started babbling something when he heard that name. The other ones shushed him pretty fast. The guy kept repeating something, over and over. Al’asraa, it means ‘prisoners.’ Everyone in town is acting kind of strange, but nothing new. Our Baptist had a lady friend, she came by to see if he was okay. She didn’t seem surprised he was dead. She said he was talking to people who weren’t there, kept raving about green mountains. Ring any bells for you? No one here has a clue or they’re not saying if they do. Did you get a sniff of this on your end?
Ed deleted the message and thought for a while before he answered:
Wondered what was up, don’t think any smells would reach this far.
He sent the message and sat on the steps until the sky began to turn from black to gray. Ed got up and stretched and went inside to see if he could sleep.
The next day was Sunday and for once Dina didn’t bug him about getting up and going to church. When he woke up around ten, she wasn’t around at all. He went downstairs and saw her car was gone. He didn’t see a note and when he tried to call her phone, he heard it ringing on the coffee table. That wasn’t like her at all. Something in her past had made her really careful about always being able to reach him. Maybe she just got used to him being gone. Ed got cleaned up and wandered around the house for a while. It was almost one when he put on his boots and went for a long walk in the National Forest behind their house. He didn’t bother taking his phone.
When Ed came back a few hours later, Dina’s car was in the driveway. He went through the back door and a plate smashed into the wall right in front of him.
“Where the fuck were you?!” Dina screamed. “Why didn’t you have your phone?”
“Calm down,” Ed said. “You didn’t have yours, so I didn’t bother taking it. Okay?”
“It’s not okay!” she snapped and stormed out of the kitchen. Ed shook his head and picked up the pieces of broken plate and threw them away before going into the living room. Dina was sitting on the couch, glaring out the window.
“Where did you get off to?” Ed said, sitting down.
“I can’t have any time to myself now?” Dina said. “You’re home so I have to check in at all times?”
“I didn’t say that. You didn’t leave a note and I wondered where you went is all.”
“I’ve been just fine on my own, Mr. Sergeant, sir. I didn’t realize you need to know every time I left the house.”
“Dina, you do what you want. I never asked you to check in, I just asked a question.” Ed got up and went back out to the kitchen.
“Now where are you sneaking off to?” she yelled.
“I’m going upstairs to read,” Ed said.
He shook his head, going through his bag for the Kindle. He didn’t remember her PMS being anything like this. In fact, he’d never seen her act like this at all. He took off his boots and laid down on the bed. Dina was thumping around downstairs and he heard another dish break. It was getting on his nerves but he was used to worse.
She came up the stairs but he didn’t look up from the book.
He looked up and she was standing by the door, “Dina.”
“I just worry about you, okay?”
“It’s not a problem, sorry there was a misunderstanding.”
“You didn’t take your phone, there was no misunderstanding.” She sounded like she was working up to another screaming fit.
“It’s not a leash, Dina, but I’ll try and keep it close in the future.”
Ed went back to reading. He could feel her staring at him but she finally went downstairs. It was quiet and Ed’s eyelids were getting heavy. He put the reader down and closed his eyes for a nap.
“I wanna *fuck*,” Dina said in his ear.
That was so unlike her that Ed thought he was waking up into another dream. He opened his eyes and she was kneeling by the bed.
“Just like that? Weren’t you just screaming at me?”
“We can figure that out later,” she said, unbuttoning her shirt. “I want to make sure I’m pregnant.”
“I want to talk things out first,” Ed said. “You’re acting strange today.”
“Don’t you want a baby?”
“I want to talk things over first is all. Then we can make sure you’re pregnant as much as you like.”
“Fine. I went into town to get some stuff and see a friend of mine. Happy?”
“I don’t care where you went or why, Dee. Why are you acting so strange?”
She unzipped and unbuttoned her shorts, letting them fall on the floor, “I’m not. You’re the one acting weird. Why don’t you want to fuck?”
“Dina, before now I could count on one hand the times you said fuck. You don’t think that might make me wonder what’s going on?”
“You said you liked it when I talked dirty.” Dina took off her bra and panties and looked at him. “Are you gonna fuck me or not?”
“I’d love to, but you’re still avoiding the question here.”
“Fine, be a bitch,” she said. “I’ll go get myself off. I guess you can’t get it up anymore unless you’re thinking about someone else fucking me? Maybe I should go find a real man.”
Ed’s temper had gotten to the breaking point but he kept his voice calm. “You do what you want. Just make sure to pack up your stuff first, you won’t be living in my house anymore.”
Dina’s mouth snapped shut and she looked shocked as he got up and walked past her and went downstairs. Ed went outside, closing the door carefully behind him and walked out to chop some wood. He was on the fourth round when he heard the screen door. He paid attention to what he was doing.
“Ed?” she quietly said from behind him.
He put the sledge down and turned around.
She was standing by the stacked firewood looking down, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s with me. I felt weird when I woke up this morning. I went in to the bakery to get us breakfast but I got so mad when I was driving there. I drove around for a while and I felt better when I got back. Then I saw you were gone and I got mad all over again. I love you, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He put his arms around her as she started to cry. “Maybe you’ve got a bug, or you’re not used to me being around the place suddenly. Are you feeling okay?”
“Kinda woozy, thirsty.”
“Let’s get you to bed, I’ll check your temperature.”
She nodded, face pressed against his bare shoulder, “You’re very sexy splitting wood, in case I freak out again and don’t tell you.”
Ed smiled. “Well, thanks. C’mon, let’s get you inside.”
Dina was almost immediately asleep when her head hit the pillow. He took water in three times and each time she’d woken up long enough to drink the entire thing. Then she was almost instantly asleep again. Ed checked her temperature. Was she going through the same thing he gotten hit with the other day? Maybe he had hallucinated the whole thing.
Ed had just started his tour of hell, he just didn’t know it yet.
It started off with the best day of his life; Ed was catching up on his reading the next day when he heard a whoop from upstairs and running feet. Dina ran out on the porch brandishing a pregnancy test.
“Oh, they tole’ me about you Army boys, but jes’ I didn’t lissen!”
“Yeah! Eddie, I’m pregnant!”
He jumped up and grabbed her around the waist and swung her around. Dina shrieked and laughed.
“I’m going throw up right on you if you don’t stop!”
Dina was laughing as he set her down. She put her arms around his neck and pulled Ed down into a long kiss.
“Now take me to bed and fuck me,” she whispered in his ear.
She got even wilder in bed this time. Ed wondered about it but wasn’t about to complain, they were having a great time together. He took her out for dinner that night to celebrate. She’d been yawning all the way home and had gone right to bed. Ed was too excited to sleep, thinking about the baby. He got out the ring, he’d ask her tomorrow.
Dina moaned and then muttered something in her sleep. Something about patience.
“What?” Ed had asked her but she just grumbled and turned over.
His mind was racing while he waited for her to talk again. Patience and impatience. ‘He’s so impatient’ That was twice now Dina had said it. Being sick or not, he was starting to believe it had been her screwing whatever that was, not an illusion. So, did they make her forget or was she lying to him? Whose child was that inside of her?
He was exhausted the next morning and Dina didn’t make his life any easier. She was already rearranging the house in her head, asking him endless questions about colors and furniture. Ed did his best to keep up but soon she was screaming at him again. Then after lunch she apologized and was fine again. He made dinner that night and she started screaming something about garlic before throwing the plateful of food at his head and storming up to the bedroom. Ed had cleaned the mess up and followed her, but she’d locked the bedroom door.
“Hey,” he said, tapping on the door. There was a large thud on the other side that shook the door and the sound of breaking glass.
“Message received,” Ed muttered, going down and getting his camping stuff. The cot in the back of his truck was way more comfortable than the couch.
The next morning started the whole rollercoaster over again. It didn’t matter what he did, she was either bawling and apologizing, or screaming like a banshee. He finally resorted to the internet, trying to find out if her hormones could be this out of whack. No clear answer without asking her a bunch of questions and he knew better than to try that right now. She yelled at him before dinner and then apologized as they sat down. Ed was pretty sure he’d end up at the VA in a padded room after nine months of this.
“I’m going to take a walk after dinner, would you like to come?” he asked her at dinner. Dina said she’d stay close to the house. He was sure to take his phone that time.
When he came back a few hours later, Dina was already in their room. He called a hello up the stairs and went out on the porch to read. She laughed several times and Ed smiled. He liked that sound. Maybe everything would be okay. He heard her walk across the floor, but it sounded like two people up there. He put the book down and glanced in the driveway. Just their cars here. Ed shook his head and sat back down. The bedroom windows were open and he heard Dina moan. It wasn’t pain, maybe she was getting ready for some make-up sex. Ed was happy to oblige in that case and went inside. He was at the bottom of the stairs when he heard Dina talking.
“He was watching us, he saw you fucking me,” she moaned.
Ed thought he heard another voice then, but too low to hear the words. But it didn’t matter what they were. He got his pistol out of the desk and quietly loaded it as he walked to the stairs.
Time to hand out some of my own terror, you creepy fuckers
She was encouraging whoever it was to fuck her as Ed started up the stairs. She orgasmed when he got to the landing. He waited, listening but then she started moaning again. Ed stepped over the squeaky stair and kept going up.
“Oh shit, you’re big,” Dina moaned through the door. “You could shove that thing right in my womb.”
Ed stopped at the top of the stairs. He stood outside the door, listening to the thudding of the bedsprings.
“It’s stretching me so good. Oh GOD! You pushed it all the way in! Push it deep, cum in me.” Dina groaned.
Ed could hear a rasping breath and he raised the pistol to eye level and kicked the door open. He was through the doorway and looking around the room. It was empty, Dina was alone on the bed. She was laughing hard, pointing at him with one hand while the other stayed busy between her legs.
“What the fuck,” Ed said. “What’s wrong with you?” He was sure someone had been in here, there was a faint smell that he didn’t recognize. Something spicy. Was he even smelling it?
“Aw, Eddie, don’t be like that. I thought it might get you excited, you liked it the other day. Did it work? You wanna pretend you’re getting sloppy seconds?”
Something broke inside Ed. He’d had enough. This was over. He grabbed his bag off the floor, glad he hadn’t bothered to unpack yet. He could buy whatever wasn’t in here. He walked out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
“Ed!” Dina yelled.
He ignored the noise, he didn’t have a goddam thing to say to her. Torturing him was fucking funny?! He grabbed his truck keys. He shoved the bag against the screen door, pushing it wide. It made a thwack behind him. Dina was still yelling his name, laughing like it was all a big joke. Ed threw his stuff in the back and got in. He turned the truck around. Dina was at the screendoor, watching him.
“I’m fucking done,” he muttered as he jerked the wheel.
The tires screeched when he turned onto pavement, headed for the freeway. He’d head south. Smokey Mountains National Park would be good. He’d stop and get extra camping gear, find a quiet place up in the hills.
Then what, Eddie?
Then…nothing. Just like Uncle Phil. He came home from Nam different. Ed didn’t remember much about the guy. He was only eight when Phil disappeared. Gone for good into Olympic National Forest. More than his face, Ed could remembered the silence of the guy. Not listening silence, or the silence of a quiet man. It was the silence of the spaces Phil was making between himself and the rest of the human race. He made a place of his own, a place he fit. Ed was following in his footsteps now. Different war, so a different forest. Ed wondered if Phil would be proud of him or just laugh.
He kept driving south through the darkness.
Ed’s phone had buzzed a few times. Andy was trying to get ahold of him. Ed was sure that Dina was probably bugging Andy to call him, tell him to go back home. No way. Done was done, she could have the house and the rest of it. He was getting gas somewhere in Kentucky when it went off again.
Andy laughed. “Damn, Ed! I get you at a bad time?”
“Did she call you?”
Then Andy sounded serious. “Did who call me Ed?”
“Never mind, not important. What’s going on?”
“Sounds important. Anyway, I think I’m finally getting to the bottom of a few things here. I gotta tell you I don’t much like my answers. They brought an old guy to the compound. He said he knew what was happening. Those rocks, they called them sakhrat alssijn, stone prisons.”
“You’re losing me, Andy.”
“Okay, I know this sounds fucked up, but you haven’t seen what’s going on around here the last couple of days. I don’t believe it myself, but it makes sense.”
“Andy, what makes sense?”
“It was djinn, Ed. They locked up some djinn and you let them out. You know what I’m talking about?”
“You been drinking?”
“Not yet. Listen, they say God made angels and men. But there’s a third group; djinn. They’re supposed to be made out of fire. We call them genies, but all our stories are wrong, bullshit They’re not some blue Disney cartoon. They’re mean and they don’t like us.”
“No, you listen to me, Ed! You’re not seeing the shit going on here. It’s bad enough we’re evacuating the town now. I can’t talk too long. But this old guy, he thinks a couple of them followed you home.”
Is that what I saw back there?
“This guy, did he say what to do?”
Andy sighed. “He doesn’t think there’s anything you can do. These djinns live a long time and they’re hard to kill. Listen, I gotta go. I’m driving the last truck out. I’ll get in touch later, okay? Stay safe Eddie. Fi Amanullah.”
“Ma al-Salamah, Andy.” Ed said as the line went dead.
Had Andy lost his shit too? Had the Company Boys been experimenting on everyone again, exposed them all to some chemical? Ed tossed the phone back in the truck. That wasn’t what he saw, djinn, genies, whatever, that stuff didn’t happen. It wasn’t real. Real was what you could see and touch.
Ed was in a bank the next morning, arranging for a monthly draft to start going to Dina. Then to a lawyer’s office. He paid too much to have a registered letter sent, telling her she was getting money and the use of the house until the kid was eighteen. The money would be more than enough to keep them both going. That took care of his responsibility, if it was really his kid. But she could play house with whoever she wanted on his dime. He just didn’t care anymore.
He bought some food and topo maps of the park in the town outside the gate. He found the remotest part he could and drove out there. He got out of the truck and looked around. It was completely silent, not even an airplane. The trees rustled down the slope and a wind blew past him. That was enough of a sign for him. He loaded up his pack and took the sparkplugs for the truck before locking up.
A few hours later he was headed up the slopes in search of a good campsite. The second hollow he walked through had a nice spot, sheltered from the wind. There was a spring too, a tiny pool with achingly cold sweet water. The water had worn a basin into the rock around it and a steady flow fell out of it into a tiny pool below. This was the spot. He patted the rock, saying thank you and got to work setting up camp.
The next day he started a routine. He turned on his phone in the morning and checked for messages. Andy wasn’t back in touch yet. On the other hand, Dina sent a steady stream that he deleted without reading. He wasn’t interested in anything she had to say. When he was done with that, he ate and then spent the rest of the day taking a long hike. He stopped for lunch and spent a few ours reading before hiking back to camp for dinner and sleep. Mostly he concentrated on keeping his mind quiet.
Ten days later Ed headed back to the truck. His phone and kindle were both dead and he wanted a few things from town. He plugged the phone into the charger and waited for it to turn on. Dina had called a bunch of times, he deleted the messages. No way. He did not want to hear it. She’d also sent a lot of email for the past couple of days and he deleted that without opening any. Ed didn’t want to read anything she had to say either.
Deep down, he didn’t know if he could face Dina begging him to come back. Or telling him to stay away. He didn’t have a clue which would be better. The phone bonged and another email from Dina appeared. Ed frowned and was about to delete it but then he noticed a couple of hikers coming out of the woods. He got out and put his pack in the back of the truck as they walked over.
“Good morning!” the woman said. “Are you headed to town?”
“I am. Need a lift?”
“That’s be great,” her friend said.
They put their packs with his and crowded into the cab. The introduced themselves as Mick and Lela. Ed had thought they were kids at first but they were older, around his age. They both talked a lot, but he enjoyed it. It was nice hearing other voices, especially as much as these two laughed.
“I’m headed for the grocery,” Ed said as they got to town.
“That would be perfect,” Lela said. “Thanks so much for the ride.”
“You need a lift back?” Ed asked as he pulled into the parking lot.
“That would be great. You don’t mind?” Mick asked.
“Happy to. I’ll be right here.”
“Then we’ll be back in an hour or so,” Lela said.
Ed went in and bought supplies and was back pretty quickly. He grabbed his phone and sat on the tailgate. It was still just the single message. The subject line was blank this time. He stared at it, knowing he should delete it, like all the others. He also knew he’d read it. Ed sighed and opened it. It was just one line.
I am yours and you are mine, to the very end. Come home, we miss you so much.
He shouldn’t have done it. Just those two sentences and he was destroyed. He couldn’t see through the tears, could barely breathe with the pain in his chest. He dropped the phone and stumbled to the front. He fumbled for the handle, then there was a soft strong hand covering his.
“Hey, Ed,” Lela said quietly. “Maybe not the best time to drive, huh?”
“I wasn’t, I just…”
“Shh.” She hugged him tightly, almost holding him up.
“How’s he doing?” Mick said from somewhere.
“Not so good. Why don’t you let Mick drive back, Ed. That okay?”
He didn’t care anymore, just held out the keys. They put him in the truck and started the long trip back.
“Sorry,” Ed finally said when he’d gotten control of his emotions again.
“For being human?” Mick said. “We know you’re going through something. Saw you around the woods.”
“Do you want to tell us what’s going on?” Lela asked, taking his hand.
Ed didn’t want to at first but she squeezed his hand and smiled at him. He started with a few sentences about the last few weeks. But Lela kept asking gentle questions, drawing more and more of the story out of him. Finally, he was telling them about the well and the woman and man. He knew he sounded insane but neither of them laughed or even smiled. They just nodded as though they heard that kind of thing every day.
“I swear,” Ed finished as they pulled into his parking spot. “I’m not on drugs.”
Mick laughed. “Nah, we believe you.”
Lela smiled and nodded. “We can see it all over you; you’ve been to the Outer.”
Ed stared at them as they got out of the truck. Mick sat on one of the boulder barriers and lit a cigarette.
“That smells so good,” Lela said. He handed her one and she lit it. Neither of them put it in their mouths, just smelled the smoke every so often.
Ed leaned on the truck and watched them. “You can see…”
“That you’ve been Outer, right,” Mick said. “It’s outside of what you can usually sense. Kind of a rough place for people, sounds like you came through pretty well.”
“You’re very brave,” Lela said.
“Who are you two, really? You’re not one of…” Ed’s voice trailed off. He didn’t know what to call them.
“That depends on how you look at things,” Lela said. “They’ve got their names and places, we’ve got our own. Who am I really?” She laughed and it sounded almost like running water. “Some of your brothers and sisters call me Lelawala.”
“You can’t really say my name, but I’m from the Makiawas,” Mick said.
“We’ve both been watching since you arrived. We wondered why you felt so twisted. But a new child and battling the Outer kind? No wonder!”
“Why did you lose it back there?” Mick asked, getting up to hand him his phone.
Ed read them the message and they nodded.
“Something’s missing, right?” Lela asked. “Do you know what it is yet?”
Ed shook his head and she surprised him by kissing his nose.
“You, silly. You’re in the wrong place!”
“Warriors like you are always welcome in my woods,” Mick said, getting up and getting his pack. “But I’m a really good judge of people and I think you’re stronger than a couple of angry damned foreigners.”
“Be nice,” Lela said. “They’re hurting too.”
“What?” Ed said. “That woman? No, they were the ones hurting…”
“Shh,” she said, putting her finger over his mouth. “Someone locked them in a prison for thousands of years, kept them from going home. They’re hurt and angry and probably crazy. It’s not all that comfortable here for us, but being trapped here for that long? Horrible. It will take them some time to start thinking again after all that torture.”
“Still, we take care of our own,” Mick said, shrugging his pack on. “So I’ll tell you what you need to hear. You’re strong enough to fight them or to try to make peace. It’s up to you but now is the time to decide. I don’t know what’ll come next for you but I know your heart is crying out for its mate and hers cries out just as loudly.”
Lela nodded and gave him a serene smile. “We can hear that perfectly. Whatever your choice, make your days good ones.”
“And don’t be afraid to kick anyone’s ass.” Mick tapped Ed’s chest. “Always listen to this, warrior.”
They smiled at him and walked off into the twilight, disappearing when they reached the trees.
I am always yours and you are always mine, to the end of time.
Ed finally nodded. He went through the boxes of stuff he’d bought and got out the cigars and whiskey. He threw in the jerky and carried the box to the edge of the forest.
“Thank you,” he said, leaving it there.
He went back and got in the truck. Screw the tent and that other crap. He had somewhere to be.
In a hot dusty room, a red-haired man in a cowboy hat sighed tiredly as he sat down. He’d never complain about being bored again, not after the last few days. He opened his email and there was one message.
Andy, your intel was confirmed. I’m going back home and standing my ground. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one ever does, but I didn’t want to just disappear on you. I just got off the freeway, I’m waiting for my coffee. A few miles from here is a flashing light. That’s the road that takes me home. I decided to go back because Dina sent me a message;
I am yours and you are mine, to the very end. Come home, we miss you so much.
I’m not sure if she meant her and the baby, or her and something we can’t understand. But I’m not too worried and I’ll know for sure in a little bit. Maybe you’re wondering why I’d risk this, why I’d go solo and head-on. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself since I started back. Turns out it’s one of those simple answers: I’m hers, and she’s mine. Maybe we never got in front of a preacher to say it, but it’s always been for better and for worse with us. If this has all been in my head, I’m glad to know you’re okay. But if I’m headed into the dark, well it don’t mean nothing boss. I’ll be there for her and the kid until the very end, whenever that comes. Better and worse, right? You can’t choose one or the other. I can’t say if you’ll hear from me again but it’s been a privilege and honor serving with you. I’ve been very fortunate to count you among my friends.
The pickup crunched up the long gravel driveway and stopped next to the barn. He sat there for a few minutes, not sure what came next. He heard the thwack of the screen door and there she was, walking down the porch steps. He got out of the truck and waited, watching her walk toward him. She was so beautiful.
“I’m sorry,” he said when she stopped an arms-length away.
She nodded gravely. “So am I. You won’t run away from me again?”
“I’m yours, to the very end.”
She smiled at him. “Things are going to be better now. You come inside.”
He followed her up the stairs and the screen door closed behind them. A little while later the lights went out. Then there were only crickets making their usual racket.